Rising feed costs - and retailer reluctance to absorb them or to pass them on to the consumer - were top of the agenda at the NFU Conference poultry breakout session.
John Reed from Cargill said the industry’s feed bill had increased by £250million on an annual basis and this increase is too large for farmers to absorb, and there had been no let-up over the early part of 2011. Keith Henderson of Blue Barns Poultry Farms said: “There has been more volatility in the market since January than we have had in the past couple of years.”
Duncan Priestner said he was pessimistic about the future: “Everyone seems to be toughing it out. I don’t know if they have a lot of debt and so cannot afford to keep their sheds empty. I cannot understand why the market has not corrected itself.”
Philip Wilkinson, of 2 Sisters, said the three main customer draws for supermarkets were dairy, chicken and bananas. But this meant that retailers were reluctant to be the first to introduce price rises that could cost them market share.
He added that supermarkets do not want to be accused of colluding with each other on price.
Poultry board chairman Charles Bourns pointed out that sales of eggs and poultry meat had been hit by the cold weather and added that these are sales that cannot be recovered.
Poultry and environment
At the meeting, the NFU poultry board presented its roadmap for the industry’s future: a corporate social responsibility document outlining how poultry farmers can produce more whilst impacting less on the environment.
Bourns said the “living and evolving” first draft was designed to set out poultry’s stall for future success and underline its position as a strong industry, well placed to meet food security demands.
He said that producing a kilogram of chicken requires between 3,500-5,700 litres of water, whereas the same amount of beef costs the environment between 15,000 to 70,000 litres.
This meant that poultry had a very good news story to tell consumers who were concerned about the environmental impact of the food chain.
The document can also serve as an agenda for poultry farmers to use to lobby their MPs on issues such as dropping the non-GM soya policy; reviewing the use of meat and bonemeal in feed and restrictions on litter burning.
Poultry welfare standard
There was good news on traceability as Ted Wright from Red Tractor said Kentucky Fried Chicken had signed up to the welfare standard. Bourns also reported that Asda wants to set up a traceability scheme to prevent eggs from illegal cage hens getting into the food chain through ready-made foodstuffs.
Wright also underlined the need for poultry farmers to do even more to help cut the instances of camplylobactor.